By Steve Keating
MONTREAL (Reuters) – After a string of U.S. Open screw-ups which angered the players and drew sniggers from fans, the United States Golf Association (USGA) admitted on Wednesday it was “critical” they get it right this year.
Billed as the “Toughest Test in Golf”, recent U.S. Opens set-ups have crossed the line with players complaining it had become the most ridiculous challenge in the sport, at one point sparking a discussion about a boycott the major.
With three of the last four U.S. Opens descending into controversy, the USGA has been pressed into full damage control mode, vowing to make this year’s event a demanding but fair test.
“I think it’s critical,” said John Bodenhamer, the USGA senior managing director of championships, told reporters. “But we feel good about our plan.
“We feel good about what you see on the golf course and what we’re going to present to the players as a tough but true test.”
Golfers say they want a tough test but not an impossible challenge.
At the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, it was the condition of the greens that had players fuming and in 2016 at Oakmont it was a rules fiasco involving Dustin Johnson that sparked a furore.
But it was last year at Shinnecock Hills where player rage peaked when Phil Mickelson deliberately hit a moving ball on the 13th green to protest at what he deemed an unfair hole location.
At Shinnecock it had become almost impossible to stop downhill putts near the cup in a strong afternoon breeze and low humidity that day, while several players putted all the way off the green at the 15th hole.
The USGA says it has heard the howls, listened to and consulted with players and is determined to get it right at Pebble Beach Golf Links when the first round gets underway on Thursday.
“I think we’ve listened intently,” said Bodenhamer. “I know I’ve had individual conversations with a number of our past champions.
“There are a lot of different opinions out there.
“But we are better from listening to those perspectives. And we’ve engaged them.
“Everybody has an opinion about how the course should play.
“But in the end, we have to make a decision about what we think is best for the championship.”
Certainly, the USGA knows what challenges await with the U.S. Open being staged on the iconic layout for a sixth time.
Players have been full of praise all week but their mood can be as fickle as the weather on the Monterey peninsula and could turn quickly as it did in 1992 when officials were caught off guard in the final round when 20 golfers shot in the 80s in diabolical conditions.
“No guarantees. There are no promises,” said Bodenhamer. “The weather can change here on the Monterey Peninsula.
“But we feel good about the plan, we feel good about the strategy going in, and we have a few safeguards in place if we need them should the weather dictate.
“We will continue to endeavour to provide the toughest test, the ultimate test, the most comprehensive test, whatever you want to call it, and really just to create something where players’ shot-making ability, mental resolve, physical stamina are tested.
“We’re not going to lose that.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)